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  • Eva

Just Say Salaam


L to R- Shuhada, Me, Norhimah, Zuraida

Six months ago, I noticed a photographer tweeted about my TEDxtalk, so I clicked on her twitter profile.

Neat! She was in Kuala Lumpur!

I went to her site, Shuhada Hasim Photography: Specializing in women's portraits. I saw exquisite headshots of women wearing hijabs.

The tweet that started it all.

I tweeted her back and we had a lovely exchange:

(pictured right)

A few weeks later, I asked if she would be willing to do a Skype interview and she enthusiastically agreed.

At the end of a candid and inspiring conversation about the global struggle women have accepting their self-image, we were eager to team up and create an event.

I would do the make-up for a one day-Shuhada-Hasim-marathon-photoshoot, and the next day give a talk to WIN MALAYSIA, a women's entrepreneurial organization in Kuala Lumpur.

Thanks to a commission from Virginia Repertory Theatre's New Works division, we made it happen, and Malaysia officially became part of the IN MY CHAIR research tour.

Initially, I wasn't at all worried about visiting Malaysia. But when people in the U.S. began to ask me which countries I’d be visiting as part of the tour, I began to notice a strange pattern.

The moment I mentioned Malaysia, people’s faces began to fill with grave concern. Their brows furrowed. Their voices lowered. They all offered me the same advice:

"Be careful."

I know they meant well, but-- can I please just get it out in the open and say it? It's because we've been conditioned to be afraid of Muslims and Muslim majority countries.

After hearing this stern warning over and over and over, even I started to think:

“Maybe they're right... Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’m missing something everyone else can see so clearly… I could be intercepted at the airport by a van of angry extremist men who have gotten wind of my desire to empower women in their country...

Maybe I'll be beheaded…”