Ever wondered what happens at a gathering of American Pakistani families? Then you must head to London to catch The Domestic Crusaders-a play about immigrant Muslims living in the American suburbs.
Written by Wajahat Ali in the after-math of the 9/11 attacks and debuting in 2006, the play made a sensational hit in America by aiming to remove the stereotypes associated with American Muslims-similar to what TLC's reality TV show, All American Muslim ,intended to achieve. Now the play comes to London, open to the British public and hosted by the Tara theatre on until 11th October.
The play centres around three generations of an American Muslim family get-together to celebrate the 21st birthday of their youngest son Ghafur. It portrays a day in the life of a Muslim Pakistani-American family in a post 9/11 era, bringing together the varied personalities we see today within the Muslim community -not only in America but also other parts of the world.
These personalities are shown through six electrifying characters -A grandfather and a retired Pakistani army officer, a middle aged son who wants to become an Islamic teacher rather than a doctor his parents had dreamed of, Fatima, the activist and lawyer daughter who believes in civil liberties and was once arrested for protesting. A successful businessman more Americanised than Pakistani plays the eldest son, and Salman and Khulsoom are the typical Pakistani parents wanting the American dream for their children.
For me, I could relate to almost every aspect of the play. The dialogue between Fatima and her mother reminded me of conversations I have with my mother (excluding the constant reminder of being arrested) around marriage, activism and independence of Muslim women. The dialogue and humour mixed in with religion made it sound almost as if it was one of my own family birthday dinners-substituting the Pakistani references for Indian of course.
The Domestic Crusaders also highlights some of the political challenges American and British Muslims are struggling with in a post 9/11 era-specifically around the media and Islam. Throughout the play, we witness sound bites of the media's negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims-a difficult task Muslims across the world are struggling to counter. The introduction of Salman to the play holding a newspaper and complaining about the media is a simple portrayal of the gravity of the issue.
Though the play is centred on an American Muslim family, it also relates to Muslims in Britain. What was really refreshing was the construction of a Pakistani-American identity rather than a generic American Muslim one. Applying this to Muslims in Britain, we are too often bombarded with narratives of integrating into society and "Britishness", with the term British Muslim being used to identify oneself as adhering to British values. This celebration of Pakistani identity is completely refreshing and rejoices immigrant communities in America.
Creating dialogue through the arts can be a powerful tool in bridging the gap between communities. Here in Britain, it is no secret that Islamophobia is on the rise. In March 2013, a Muslim helpline set up to tackle Islamophobia logged over 630 anti-Islam incidents over a 12 month period-58% of them involving women. And recently, figures released by the Metropolitan police showed a 92% increment in Islamophobic hate crimes between August 2012 and August 2013. Initiatives such as Wajahat Ali's Domestic Crusaders can be a very powerful tool in creating education and awareness about Islam and Muslims in Britain. The portrayal of domestic challenges humanises Muslims by showing the same problems afflict families across all cultures.
The only downfall to the Domestic Crusaders is that it is only playing in London, which means only a few people will have the opportunity to see it. However, the trip and £27.50 return from Birmingham to London was well worth it for me. A must see for all those ever wanting to know "what Muslims living in the west think" or "how immigrant communities live."