Spotlight: Zahra Noorbakhsh, stand-up comedian and Love InshAllah contributor

Zahra Noorbakhsh is a writer, actor and stand-up comedian, whose one-woman shows All Atheists Are Muslim and Hijab and Hammerpants have appeared at the New York International Fringe Theater Festival, San Francisco Theater Festival, and Solo Performance Workshop Festival to widespread critical acclaim. Zahra says of her love for comedy:  “As an Iranian woman with a heritage rich in satire, I’ve always loved the power of comedy to bring people together.  We can sympathize all we want in drama, but in order to genuinely laugh at a joke, we have to ‘get it.’ I love comedy that is dark or unapologetic and is able to hold its audience accountable—comedy that forces us to laugh at ourselves rather than others.”

An excerpt from Zahra’s piece, “The Birds, the Bees, and My Hole”: 

“Finally. My first year of high school was over, and summer was here. My mother was dropping me off to go to the movies with Jen, Kim, Laura, and Ryan. Wait. Oh, crap, I had forgotten about Ryan! There he was, walking with my girlfriends to the ticket booth. I knew that if my mom saw him, she would never trust me again and would confine me to the house for the rest of the summer.

My parents were so strict that I couldn’t go anywhere without their practically doing a background check on everyone who would be there. Regardless of how chaste the event was, they had to be sure there wouldn’t be any boys present to tempt me down the path of loose women. The thing is, I was a late bloomer and had absolutely no interest in dating—what I knew of it, anyway, based on Molly Ringwald’s characters in John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. Though I could barely admit that I “liked” guys, my days of blissful ignorance about the world of dating were about to be over.”

A longer excerpt of Zahra’s story (which Huffington Post Books dubbed “holesome fun!”) is available here. It created quite a splash when it was posted yesterday, generating almost 1,300 comments!  To read Zahra’s entire piece, order Love InshAllah today!

Why were you drawn to this project?

Upon meeting Ayesha and Nura—two outspoken and fearless women—I knew right off the bat that this would be a rare opportunity to shift generalizations and paradigms about Muslim women, both in and out of the Muslim community.  I needed and wanted to be a part of their journey to make that change.

What was the most challenging part of sharing your story?

The most challenging part of sharing my story was…all of it.  Everything about writing this piece kicked my ass.  In fact, “Dear Ayesha and Nura, This piece is kicking my ass…” is how most of my emails to them began.

It was a terrifying experience for me to write without an audience present: an audience who could receive my story and then give me the immediate feedback I was so used to getting as a performer.  I had no idea who my audience was.  I couldn’t look beyond the page and see their faces and know that at the other end, reading these words are either my parents or my peers, my friends or my high school bullies, teenagers or scholars, Iranians or non-Iranians, Muslims or non-Muslims.  The privacy I had typing up my story in the middle of the night in my apartment, alone, left me feeling incredibly naked and vulnerable.

If there’s one thing you hope that readers will take away from your story, what is it? 

The diversity and complexity of Muslim women’s experiences of sexuality, as women.  I hope our readers on the whole see that Muslim women, like all women, have subjective and differing opinions on the body, love, and lust; that we are not of a single, homogeneous mind-set any more than we are of a single, homogeneous experience.  I also hope my candor helps build a friendlier community for women of all ages and backgrounds to share their sexy or not-at-all-sexy, naked-feeling stories.

4 Comments on “Spotlight: Zahra Noorbakhsh, stand-up comedian and Love InshAllah contributor”

  1. The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.

  2. noreen zaman says:

    i’ve really enjoyed learning more about the contributors in these “spotlights” and love hearing them discuss what drew them to the project as well as what was challenging about it for them. thanks!

  3. […] of increased clarity about my own unconventional romantic history. There is laughter in comedienne Zahra Noorbakhsh’s “The Birds, The Bees and my Hole,” tears in Suzanne Syeda Shah’s achingly […]