Canada’s First Professional Muslim Theatre Company opens in Montreal

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SHAFAQNA– The Silk Road Theater Company, a Canadian Muslim non-profit organization, open “Canada’s first professional theatre company in Montreal to bring diverse stores from within Muslim communities to the stage.

The Silk Road Theatre Company aims to provide a platform and a space for minority voices to come to the forefront.

The company’s first production is the critically-acclaimed play, THE DOMESTIC CRUSADERS, playing at Espace Knox from September 27 to October 6, 2018.

Zeshaun Saleem plays the role of Salahuddin, the eldest of three siblings in a Pakistani-American family.

“This is actually my first major production,” he said. “Ironically it’s something that I can very much relate to, simply because the younger brother, Ghafur — his parents are on his case which is very typical of a Pakistani family, for him to end up in one of those professional careers, either a doctor lawyer or engineer.”

Saleem, who is himself a second-generation Pakistani-Canadian, said that growing up he felt the same pressures that are depicted in the play.

“I come from a family where my parents are physicians and my elder siblings are physicians and I, the youngest, decided not to go that route.”

The Silk Road Theatre Company was born out of a desire from members of the Montreal Muslim community to “change the narrative that we always hear about Muslims.”

So says Bochra Manaï, vice-chair of the Silk Road Institute, a Montreal group tasked with promoting creative arts within the Muslim community.

“It means that we finally can have a space, a welcoming space for under-represented communities, for Muslim communities to share their narratives, to tell their stories, to talk about Islamophobia,” she told CBC Daybreak.

The play, written by Wajahat Ali, premiered off-Broadway in 2005 and explores an inter-generational family conflict in a post-9/11 world.

The Domestic Crusaders is written by the American award-winning playwright, Wajahat Ali, one of CNN’s twenty-five “most influential Muslims”. He is a writer, lawyer, TV host, contributing Op-Ed writer for The New York Times, and a consultant for the U.S. State Department. Directed by former Director of the Quebec Drama Federation, Deborah Forde, the story centers on a Muslim American family grappling with a variety of common trials and tribulations within the changing dynamics of the post-9/11 world.

“Wajahat Ali is a major new voice in American literature. His play is to Muslim American theater what A Raisin in the Sun is to African American theater.” said Mitch Berman, Pulitzer Prize nominated author.

“It’s a journey of love, of faith, of discovery, of challenge to self, and a journey of family both in story and in how this has come together”, says Forde, who has been working with the cast and crew since early summer. “I’ve extended my family through this work [and] I hope it will make that distance between me and someone who is Muslim less.”

“We chose this play because it speaks to universal themes of love, struggle and acceptance,” says Mohamed Shaheen, Board Chair of the Silk Road Institute. “The cultural arts and storytelling have always had the power to connect people and to celebrate our shared humanity. We hope this play will shed some light into Canada’s multi-faceted Muslim community, and contribute to a more constructive conversation about Muslim identity in Quebec”, Montreal Theater Hub reported.

“It’s of course about Islamophobia because it takes place after 9/11,” said Manaï. “It’s about complexity. … [Ali] wanted to show and to showcase ‘What are the Muslims talking about when they are around the dinner table?'”

Manaï said that the idea of creating a theater workshop came around four years ago, and with funding from Inspirit and the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, the dream became a reality.

They also worked with Montreal’s Black Theatre Workshop, the longest-running Black theater company in the country, to get off the ground.

Saleem, who is preparing for his big opening night next weekend, said the play offers an inter-generational discussion about how Muslim identity has changed after the 2001 attacks and beyond.

“The question, which is the very central question to this whole play, is to what extent do we hold on to that identity? How do we negotiate that identity?”

“When there is someone who is going to raise awareness about what goes on amongst Muslim families, and actually [they] have the same internal negotiations as non-Muslims do, that to me was very exciting,” he said.

The show is supported by the Michaëlle Jean Foundation and the Inspirit Foundation. Peter Flegel, Director of Programming and Development at the Michaëlle Jean Foundation, says, “Sadly, we’ve seen significant anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. We are firm believers that the cultural arts are an important way to help shatter stereotypes and dispel fears that some people may have about those they do not know personally. We are excited to support this initiative because we believe audiences are looking for Muslim-centred narratives that will present their communities in a more nuanced, relatable way.”

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