US debut play lays bare tensions and wrings comedy from differences across generations…
FAMILIES – love or loathe them, we all have to negotiate our own way beyond them.
The strength of Wajahat Ali’s debut play, ‘The Domestic Crusaders’, is precisely this.
Written in the tumult of 9/11, but first performed in 2006/7 in the US, it looks ostensibly like a play about US Muslims coming to terms with what happened that day and rediscovering their place within the mosaic fabric of American society.
To some extent, this is what gives Ali’s play, its force and urgency – in the US, few if any dramas had dealt with the Muslim or to some extent, the South Asian immigrant, experience. Ali does it and more.
It is valuable and instructive to hear how US Muslims felt that day – there is a line that seems to haunt every one of the play’s six characters.
When the father Salman (Kulvinder Ghir) says: “When the Towers fell, we fell with them”, it seems to reverberate uneasily as an echo that will last, at least a generation or two.
However, to home in on simply the grand and overriding narrative is to miss the rich and complex contours that make up each character.
Ali has described as it a typical kitchen sink drama with ‘some masala’ and this is where its comedy and ultimate strength lie.
He has said elsewhere and to us – (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/us-dream-play-about-muslim-family-hit-london/) that each character is on their own crusade.
At a superficial level, the characters all appear to represent a particular idea or type of Muslim and one of the questions Ali seems to be hinting at, is how different might it be – if 9/11 had not happened?
A stimulating question – to be frank, the Pakistani/Indian/South Asian Muslim American didn’t look too different to any other minority group in the US and that isn’t to say there were not problems but the scale was, and remains, different.
Of course after 9/11, Muslims and those from South Asia looked suspect in the face of much of Middle and unthinking America (and probably still does).
From the grandfather figure who proudly wears his Muslim skull cap to his 21-year-old grandson Ghaffur – whose landmark birthday the family comes to celebrate – and embraces Muslim compassion and brotherhood, there is a rich diversity of beliefs and practices within the one family.
Mother (Mamta Kaash) and daughter (Shyam Bhatt) are different too and bicker and argue about their adherence to the faith, with 24-year-old Fatima insistent that she wear her hijab even in the home.
Beyond these four are seemingly two peripheral figures on the debate raging within, about what sort of Islam to practise.
Salman, or Abu (Ghir) as his children call him, looks sold on the American dream and does not refer much to his faith and nor too does his eldest son, the most vociferously anti-religion figure in the play.
It was not quite clear whether Salahuddin/Sal (Taqi Nazeer) is an atheist and has at least, informally, deserted the faith (there’s a whole play in that…) and he chooses to mock Fatima’s very public faith.
Sal prefers fast cars, girls and material comforts as someone who works in mergers and acquistions.
There is a gulf between the children and their parents – Fatima cannot bring herself to tell her family that she is in love with a black Muslim convert, while Ghaffur’s career choice leaves them aghast.
The first half very much outlines the territory of the battle and the second brings it all together with its combustible components.
It isn’t pretty and it isn’t meant to be – and that is what draws us in and keeps us absorbed with the political issues giving away to more personal drama, conflict and startling revelations.
For us Brits, the play presents both commonality and contrasts. There is a sense that at one level, US Muslims are better integrated in terms of work, largely because of higher educational achievements (as Ali himself pointed to), and on the other, those around them appear to have little understanding or appreciation of Islam (something that is only subtly explored through inference). Do we confuse turbaned Sikhs with Muslims here?
It’s a strong cast and a fine production, which has much to recommend it – and but for a few slightly offbeat cultural references (to us), is an entertaining, stimulating and engaging work that deserves to be widely seen.
- Interview with Wajahat Ali: http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/us-dream-play-about-muslim-family-hit-london/
- The Domestic Crusaders, until October 11, 7.30pm, Tara Theatre, 356 Garratt Lane, Earlsfield, London, SW18 4ES.
- Box office: 020 8333 4457 www.tara-arts.com.
- There is a picture of Wajahat Ali on our facebook page (older posts), please click on that social media icon at the top of the page here.
Picture: Salman/Abu (Kulvinder Ghir) in ‘The Domestic Crusaders’