Crusading for Modern Islamic Art
Beyond calligraphy, geometric designs and classic Islamic poetry, there's Wajahat Ali, who with his new play "The Domestic Crusaders" is rewriting the book on what is modern Islamic art.
If Ali were to stop here, "The Domestic Crusaders" would be no better than a stage version of "Bend it like Beckham" or similar fare. But the play reaches further, and in the ways that it is different from those works gives this play meaning–dare I say, an Islamic meaning.
The story explores the life of a Pakistani-American family, whose children are struggling to find the shared ground between being opinionated, ambitious American youth and hewing to the Islamic values that they learned from the previous generation. It asks, what does it mean to be a Muslim in America? What parts of American culture can be integrated into the still-emerging American Muslim culture? Where is the line that exists between the cultural values of the immigrant generation and the Islamic ones?
Ali’s play takes place during one day in the life of a family of six that loosely parallel the lives of a typical multi-generational immigrant Muslim family in post-9/11 America who struggle (i.e. "crusade") to explore and maintain their own unique experience and identity while remaining a cohesive family unit.
The three American-born children follow archetypes that resemble many Muslim youth growing up in America: Eldest child Salahuddin, pushed by his parents to excel at everything, represses a growing resentment; daughter Fatima continually defends her unique Islamic identity in the face of family traditions and American culture; and youngest son Ghafur is determined to strike out on his own path regardless of what his family thinks of him.
Salman, the father, feels the pressure of being the family patriarch and breadwinner but stoically carries out his duty despite his own personal needs. And his wife Khulsoom plays a fish out of water trying to maintain a cultural bubble around herself and (less successfully) around her family. Salman’s father Hakim, a retired Pakistani army officer, plays a quiet background role until a terrible revelation fills in some of the pieces of the missing puzzle and provides a bridge for understanding between family members.
While Ali has strived to make the play as professional as possible–and he succeeds in meeting all the standards of any similar production in a large metropolitan area–he was determined to cast the play with actors from the local Pakistani community, whether they had formal training or not. He coaxes incredibly convincing performances out of an amateur cast, who were blessed with an interesting and at times rip-roaringly funny script that is so true to the reality of living a Muslim life in America that it is easy to imagine this discourse actually happening in an American-Muslim home.
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