Domestic Crusaders: A review of Wajahat Ali’s groundbreaking play


Wajahat Ali’s play, The Domestic Crusaders, is an incredible contribution to American Muslim literature, and one that our communities will benefit from for years to come. Set to premiere in New York on September 11th, Ali’s play appeals to a mass audience while staying true to its goal of providing a groundbreaking, honest, and beautifully human portrayal of what it means to be an American Muslim.

Wajahat Ali’s Domestic Crusaders, a play about a Pakistani-American family that is set to premiere at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York on September 11, is a startling, heartfelt look at the immigrant experience, the American Muslim experience, and the ties that bind families and loved ones together.

The play takes place on the birthday of Ghafur, the youngest son, and masterfully portrays the complexities of three generations of characters. Ali manages to capture the lived experiences of his characters with striking clarity – be they the eldest son Salahuddin’s flagrant exploits, the father Salman’s struggle to support his family in a land that still seems too foreign to be home, or the fight against a patriarchal culture that consumes Fatima, the only daughter and middle child.

Although the play takes place on only one night, the stories told by each character’s dialogue and the family’s interaction with one another manage to span lifetimes. The remarkable secret of Ali’s play is that, with wisdom and insight far beyond his years, Ali has written an intriguing, often comical account of a Pakistani American family that, in its specificity, has managed to encompass what Ali recently called in an interview with NBC, “the universal.” In the end, although Ali’s play seeks to portray the human side of an oft vilified other, his play manages to capture the humanity in us all.

I had the pleasure of watching a live performance of Ali’s play in Berkeley in 2005. Although it has been four years since I watched the play, many of the scenes and the dialogue have stuck with me through the years. As a Muslim Pakistani-American, Ali’s play provided me with the unique opportunity to see myself through the mediums of art and literature. Suddenly, characters that looked like me, talked like me, and even thought like me portrayed the inevitable struggles and triumphs that encompass all human experiences. Suddenly Ali’s play had transformed my personal history into something approachable and relatable, something “universal”.

For me, some of the most intriguing universal issues addressed in Domestic Crusaders related to notions of gender and contentment. Contemporary feminist theory and the ongoing debate of what constitutes an ideal, empowered feminine element of society find their way into the play through Fatima. Fatima’s struggle to define herself beyond culturally imposed gender roles may seem misguided to many because she also chooses to wear the Muslim headscarf. However, despite the oppression that many associate with the head covering, the audience comes to know Fatima as one of the strongest personalities in the family.

There are many dramatic moments in the play when Fatima’s conviction and determination come to the fore – and some of the most intriguing instances of this are when we hear how drastically Fatima’s opinions differ from her own mother’s. In fact, if it is a general frustration that seems to keep the fire burning inside Fatima, Fatima’s mother, Kulsoom, seems to peacefully and happily embody much of the traditional femininity that Fatima looks upon with such distrust.

Both of the women’s characters force audiences to reevaluate who is really happier – the woman waging a war against others’ ideals or the woman who seems to have embraced and thrived in a cultural environment that many western feminists may find problematic. The contradictions between Fatima’s and Kulsoom’s understanding of womanhood are truly rich and worthy of hours of conversation and hearty debate. Although Fatima’s portrayal piqued my interest the most, all of the characters’ stories are rich with tension and aptly expose the gray areas that shade the spaces between what is easily discernable.

And it is this element of Ali’s play – this tendency to complicate matters that ought not be simplified, to expose the perpetual pushing and pulling that characterizes all personal struggles – that makes Domestic Crusaders so enjoyable and relatable. Ali does not force harmony in his play but allows the differences and discord of the American family, and the American Muslim community, to come through. In the end, Ali has managed to tell a complete story of our community by realizing that this story can only be told through nuances and idiosyncrasies.
Ali’s play is an incredible contribution to American Muslim literature, and one that our communities will benefit from for years to come. Ali’s play appeals to a mass audience while staying true to its goal of providing a groundbreaking, honest, and beautifully human portrayal of what it means to be an American Muslim.

Rabea Chaudhry is Associate Editor of Altmuslimah

Theatre

Domestic Crusaders: A review of Wajahat Ali’s groundbreaking play

Wajahat Ali’s play, The Domestic Crusaders, is an incredible contribution to American Muslim literature, and one that our communities will benefit from for years to come. Set to premiere in New York on September 11th, Ali’s play appeals to a mass audience while staying true to its goal of providing a groundbreaking, honest, and beautifully human portrayal of what it means to be an American Muslim.
Wajahat Ali’s Domestic Crusaders, a play about a Pakistani-American family that is set to premiere at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York on September 11, is a startling, heartfelt look at the immigrant experience, the American Muslim experience, and the ties that bind families and loved ones together.

The play takes place on the birthday of Ghafur, the youngest son, and masterfully portrays the complexities of three generations of characters. Ali manages to capture the lived experiences of his characters with striking clarity – be they the eldest son Salahuddin’s flagrant exploits, the father Salman’s struggle to support his family in a land that still seems too foreign to be home, or the fight against a patriarchal culture that consumes Fatima, the only daughter and middle child.

Although the play takes place on only one night, the stories told by each character’s dialogue and the family’s interaction with one another manage to span lifetimes. The remarkable secret of Ali’s play is that, with wisdom and insight far beyond his years, Ali has written an intriguing, often comical account of a Pakistani American family that, in its specificity, has managed to encompass what Ali recently called in an interview with NBC, “the universal.” In the end, although Ali’s play seeks to portray the human side of an oft vilified other, his play manages to capture the humanity in us all.

I had the pleasure of watching a live performance of Ali’s play in Berkeley in 2005. Although it has been four years since I watched the play, many of the scenes and the dialogue have stuck with me through the years. As a Muslim Pakistani-American, Ali’s play provided me with the unique opportunity to see myself through the mediums of art and literature. Suddenly, characters that looked like me, talked like me, and even thought like me portrayed the inevitable struggles and triumphs that encompass all human experiences. Suddenly Ali’s play had transformed my personal history into something approachable and relatable, something “universal”.

For me, some of the most intriguing universal issues addressed in Domestic Crusaders related to notions of gender and contentment. Contemporary feminist theory and the ongoing debate of what constitutes an ideal, empowered feminine element of society find their way into the play through Fatima. Fatima’s struggle to define herself beyond culturally imposed gender roles may seem misguided to many because she also chooses to wear the Muslim headscarf. However, despite the oppression that many associate with the head covering, the audience comes to know Fatima as one of the strongest personalities in the family.

There are many dramatic moments in the play when Fatima’s conviction and determination come to the fore – and some of the most intriguing instances of this are when we hear how drastically Fatima’s opinions differ from her own mother’s. In fact, if it is a general frustration that seems to keep the fire burning inside Fatima, Fatima’s mother, Kulsoom, seems to peacefully and happily embody much of the traditional femininity that Fatima looks upon with such distrust.

Both of the women’s characters force audiences to reevaluate who is really happier – the woman waging a war against others’ ideals or the woman who seems to have embraced and thrived in a cultural environment that many western feminists may find problematic. The contradictions between Fatima’s and Kulsoom’s understanding of womanhood are truly rich and worthy of hours of conversation and hearty debate. Although Fatima’s portrayal piqued my interest the most, all of the characters’ stories are rich with tension and aptly expose the gray areas that shade the spaces between what is easily discernable.

And it is this element of Ali’s play – this tendency to complicate matters that ought not be simplified, to expose the perpetual pushing and pulling that characterizes all personal struggles – that makes Domestic Crusaders so enjoyable and relatable. Ali does not force harmony in his play but allows the differences and discord of the American family, and the American Muslim community, to come through. In the end, Ali has managed to tell a complete story of our community by realizing that this story can only be told through nuances and idiosyncrasies.
Ali’s play is an incredible contribution to American Muslim literature, and one that our communities will benefit from for years to come. Ali’s play appeals to a mass audience while staying true to its goal of providing a groundbreaking, honest, and beautifully human portrayal of what it means to be an American Muslim.

Rabea Chaudhry is Associate Editor of Altmuslimah

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Face to faith

Ramadan may be a time of devotion, but it can also awaken spiritual tensions

Summer Ramadans are the toughest. In northern climes, the yawning chasm that separates dawn from dusk makes the long, meandering days feel less like a pleasant stroll and more like an epic marathon. Further south, the days may be shorter and the hunger less palpable, but the intense heat makes the faster feel lost in a desert of thirst.

Although I no longer do Ramadan, the first time I ever fasted, when I was seven, happened to be one of those endless English summer days upon which the sun never seems to set. Muslim children are not obliged to fast and my parents thought I was too young, but I’ve always been up for a challenge. Besides, there was a mysterious and exotic appeal to those rituals which transformed life within the confines of our home, but hardly caused a ripple in the routines of the outside world.

That first day, Palestinian friends hosted us for iftar. As our mothers prepared a delicious Middle Eastern banquet to mark the start of the month, the kitchen became a torture chamber – teasing and tormenting me with an array of delicious, mouth-watering aromas.

The last couple of hours were sheer hell: it seemed that time itself had become so hunger-stricken that it could no longer function properly, and crawled from one second to the next like a snail on tranquilisers. All the adults commended me for getting so far and urged me to break my fast, but a stubborn streak inside me insisted that I would eat and drink only when the grown-ups did.

With practice over the years, fasting got much easier physically but much tougher philosophically. Ironically, I took up fasting in a non-Muslim country as a child and abandoned it in a Muslim land as an adult. Even before I lost my faith completely, I was never really a practicing Muslim: I’ve never prayed regularly, nor have I ever read the Qur’an in its entirety, let alone memorised it. In fact, fasting Ramadan – but not the marathon prayer sessions and Quranic recitals associated with the holy month – is the only aspect of Islam that I have ever stuck to religiously. Continue reading

Ahmadinejad calls for prosecution of Iran’s opposition leaders

latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fgw-iran-ahmadinejad29-2009aug29,0,2191500.story

The president says post-election unrest was part of a foreign plot carried out by ‘subversives.’ His demand runs counter to supreme leader Ali Khamenei, who gave a conciliatory speech Wednesday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech during the weekly Friday prayers at Tehran University. (Behrouz Mehri, AFP/Getty Images / August 28, 2009)

By Borzou Daragahi

8:46 AM PDT, August 28, 2009

Reporting from Beirut

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded the prosecution of opposition leaders today, raising the nation’s political temperature just a day and a half after supreme leader Ali Khamenei sought to cool tempers in a conciliatory speech.

In a pre-sermon speech at weekly prayers in Tehran, the capital, Ahmadinejad did not explicitly name his rivals Mir-Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, but left little doubt he was speaking about them in calling for the punishment of the “masterminds” who allegedly spurred weeks of unrest that followed his widely disputed June 12 reelection.

“The most important task for the judiciary and security bodies is to deal seriously with the leaders and masterminds” of the unrest, he said. “All of those who organized and instigated [the riots] and followed the enemy line have to be seriously confronted. The masterminds of the riots should by no means enjoy any immunity.”

The crowd inside the Tehran University venue chanted, “Execution for the ringleaders!”

Although a crackdown appears to have halted a protest movement that erupted amid allegations of vote-rigging in the election, it has failed to quiet reformist and moderate politicians who continue to defy hard-liners’ threats to have them jailed.


FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article referred to Mohammad Khatami as the Iranian president. He’s a former president.


“We will not budge regardless of all the pressures aimed at dislodging reformists,” former President Mohammad Khatami said at a meeting of political activists Thursday night. “We can no longer defend our Islamic Republic against rigid-minded, extremist and inhumane groups working under the name of Islam.”

On Wednesday, Khamenei made a conciliatory speech welcoming the opposition back into the political fold. He rejected the assertion made by Ahmadinejad’s supporters that opposition figures were backed by foreigners, and vowed to go after hard-line activists and security personnel who committed acts of violence against protesters, prisoners and students in the recent unrest. Continue reading

Ali Eteraz’s “Children of Dust”

Children of Dust

Ali Eteraz’s first book, Children of Dust, published by Harper One, an imprint of Harper Collins, will be released on October 13, 2009.

9780061567087_0_Cover

Children of Dust is an elegant memoir revealing Islamic fundamentalism and madrassa life in rural Pakistan, the culture shock of moving to the U.S., and a journey of reconciliation to the modern Middle East. Author Ali Eteraz is a compelling young male literary voice, and in telling his coming-of-age story he captures not merely pain, but also the love, laughter, and pathos of Muslim life.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. More information is available at The Fun in Fundamentalism dot com.

Early Praise:

“Elegantly written…thoughtful and wry.”

American Library Association’s magazine Booklist

“An astoundingly frightening, funny, and brave book.”

Fatima Bhutto, Pakistani poet and intellectual

“In this supremely assured, lush, and rip-roaring book, Eteraz manages to do the impossible, gliding confidently over the chasm that divides East and West. Wildly entertaining, Children of Dust is memoir of the first order, as genuinely American as Muslim, unraveling the perilous mystery that is modern Pakistan as only memoir can. Unlike others, Eteraz has truly ‘been there,’ and we are all the better for it. One of the most revealing chronicles of Islamic fundamentalism since Mottahedeh’s classic Mantle of the Prophet.”

Murad Kalam, novelist, author of Night Journey

“In Children of Dust, Ali Eteraz takes a clear-eyed view of his own coming of age, and chronicles for us the transformations of the 21st century everyman in prose that is alternately inquiring, humorous, humble and wise, we follow the journey of a soul determined to reconcile the many worlds that live inside him. In a time rife with cultural misinterpretations and generalizations, sensitive accounts such as Children of Dust are invaluable assets.”

Laleh Khadivi, novelist, Emory Fiction Fellow, author of The Age of Orphans

Children of Dust is a gift and a necessity, and should be read by believers and nonbelievers alike. Sure to deepen our collective conversation about religion and reason, loyalty and universality, and our geopolitical aims, it’s also just plain fun to read.”

Yael Goldstein Love, author of Overture: A Novel and The Passion of Tasha Darsky

“The gripping story of a young man exposed to both the beauty and ugliness of religion.”

Laila Lalami, novelist, professor of creative writing at University of California-Riverside, author of Secret Son

AQ KHAN – The Rogue Nuclear Scientist? Curbs lifted

A court in Pakistan has lifted the final restrictions on controversial nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, allowing him total freedom of movement.

Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan at his home in Islamabad after a court verdict on Feb 6, 2009

Abdul Qadeer Khan has been under house arrest since 2004

Dr Khan, whose work helped Pakistan become a nuclear state, spent years under house arrest after he admitted selling off nuclear weapons secrets.

In February 2009 most restrictions on him were lifted, but he still had to notify authorities of his movements.

He subsequently filed a petition arguing for further freedoms.

Dr Khan confessed to transferring nuclear weapons technology to Libya, North Korea and Iran in 2004 but was later pardoned by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

He has since said that the charges against him were false and that his confession was “forced”.

The BBC’s Syed Shoaib Hasan in Islamabad says that despite his confession and detention, Dr Khan remains very popular among many Pakistanis who regard him as a national hero. Continue reading