A Muslim Playwright Changes the Script
Friday, March 11, 2011
As Congress holds hearings this week on the radicalization of American Muslims, a Pakistani-American playwright is trying to flip the script. Wajahat Ali, who earned raves for his post-9/11 family drama The Domestic Crusaders, told Kurt Andersen, "It would be similar to me asking Italian-Americans, 'hey, I heard there are lots of Mafioso-types in your communities so let's have the cast of Jersey Shore come up and testify.'"
A recent poll found that 62% of Americans don't personally know a Muslim, and Ali says his community is partly to blame. Many Muslims fulfilled their parents’ wishes to be "doctors, engineers, and dubious businessmen who somehow made a lot of money and drive a BMW." According to Ali, that doesn't leave enough artists like himself to tell their story. The result? "Our story will be told by others for us."
Ali's play The Domestic Crusaders goes a long way towards reclaiming that narrative by offering a familiar middle class tableaux. Ghafur, age 21, chafes at the idea of going to medical school; Fatima, his sister, wears the hijab but doesn't want an arranged marriage; their mother Khulsoom follows the call to prayer by dancing to Tom Jones.
Originally staged in the back of a South Asian restaurant in San Francisco, Crusaders is the first play ever published by McSweeney's. "It's about a family that happens to be American, happens to be Muslim, and happens to have Pakistani origins," Ali says. "If I've done my job it's a universal story." (As someone who married into a Bengali Muslim family I can vouch for its pitch-perfect portrait.)
Now, Ali is bringing that same sensibility to a Muslim cop drama for HBO written with Dave Eggers. It's not exactly the "Qu'osby Show" but as he explained to Kurt, "The intention first and foremost is to create a quality show with complex characters." However, if viewers also say, "'Oh, wow look—Muslims are neither avatars of perfection nor avatars of Armageddon and hellfire,'" then that according to Ali, "is a point worth making."
Cover art from the McSweeney's edition of Ali's play, The Domestic Crusaders
(Daniel Krall, Courtesy of McSweeney's)
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