Burqa Boutique delves into the multilayered identity of Muslim women and questions what the garment symbolizes.
The play is showing at the seventh annual rEvolver Festival. It is part of the Killjoy Play Series, in which the feminist collective Killjoy Theatre will present three new works by female and nonbinary playwrights.
“It’s simply about the game, women being chess pieces, and different political players moving them here and there,” Brishkay Ahmed, the play’s writer, tells the Straight in a phone interview from Kabul, Afghanistan. Ahmed is an Afghan-Canadian playwright and documentary filmmaker.
The play is set somewhere in the Middle East or Central Asia and depicts a country going through civil war. There is a clash between the religious and the secular. The two political groups are at extreme ends of the spectrum: one bans the hijab and the other makes it mandatory.
“I didn’t choose one particular nation, because it’s all our experiences,” Ahmed says. She explains that the struggle between the religious and the secular is common to the history of Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan—all three countries where she has previously worked.
Burqa Boutique tells the story of five women caught in the ideological battle and how they confront their identity and faith. The title refers to a boutique that provides a useful service to women living in the two opposing districts by both selling and buying the garment. The space is much more, providing them with a safe haven where they can seek refuge and form camaraderie.
Although the play is a work of fiction, it is based on facts.
“It’s the frustration with the fact that we are always toyed with by our governments, by men inside our nations who want to control us, and by exterior forces who want to come in,” says Ahmed.
“It’s like the "Afghan girl", for instance. It’s the perfect commodified victim for invasion to continue. It allows for excuses of human-rights violations,” she adds.
Writing about the mysterious and often contentious garment is not new to Ahmed. In 2012, her documentary Story of Burqa: Case of a Confused Afghan screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.
When asked if there are similar characters in the play and the documentary, she jokingly says, “Well, the burqa! That’s there.”
She points out, “It’s actually not an Afghan garment, and that’s what my last documentary talked about. It’s an import.”
Her documentary traced the history of the garment. It looked at different origins of the burqa, one possible source being the Mughal culture. “Others say the British brought it as a spy tool. There are so many stories around it,” Ahmed says. She calls into question the obscure nature of the tradition and why that shows the burqa is an influence.
Talking about the burqa’s significance in her personal life, she says, “It’s definitely not for me. I’m not going to disagree with any woman who wants to wear a burqa for her own reasons. If somebody calls it a true Islamic garment, I will disagree with that.”
Ahmed believes in celebrating the fact that there is diversity within Muslim women around the world, in their thoughts and beliefs, and that is something she wants to educate people about.
“They don’t understand that Muslim women are different. We’re not just one. Not one cube of ice.”