There may be mercy for the dead. There is none left for the living
When we hear the young Daoud utter this despairing line in Akbar Ahmed's play NOOR we could almost be listening to a young man or woman today in Syria, Egypt or Pakistan.
Muslims all over the world have just finished a month long observance of Ramadan by fasting and praying. Ramadan, a time for spiritual reflection, increased devotion and worship with the aim of cleansing the soul, is over. The festivities of Eid are over and now what? Have we become more kind, more loving, more compassionate, more merciful, and more embracing of other beliefs and cultures?
It is difficult not to despair, when even as I write, there is the threat of a global violence- another senseless war with more killings and greater destruction. In our everyday lives we continue to be over-loaded by news stories, made even more unpalatable by gruesome graphics. The innocent, helpless and yet concerned citizen anywhere in the world is left frustrated and agitated. Many of us feel the volcanic eruption inside us as we watch, listen and read. For many of us who are innocent bystanders, helpless and frustrated the world of the Arts provides a haven, a refuge and sometimes the answers for which we are desperately searching.
In our increasingly disturbed and dissonant world Art provides a platform to promote inter-cultural understanding, inter-faith exchange and building bridges towards a common humanity. Through millennia, the Arts have been used as a vehicle to bring awareness to social, moral and political justice. Drama in particular, provides a catharsis, a much needed therapy.
Today, Professor Akbar Ahmed's highly acclaimed and controversial play Noor is the focal point of debate and discussion. The current production of the two-act play in English is an attempt to address critically important issues through a narrative. The story of a fractured family, divided by differing ideologies could be the story of any family anywhere. The crisis of the family - its dilemmas and delusions - is the crisis of the world.
The play addresses the hot-button issues of extremism, oppression and obscurantism and depicts the diversity of positions found within Islam. Yet, the play shows the insignificance of our differences and portrays that all religions are equal because they all seek the Divine Truth and teach tolerance, compassion and mercy. However, the FACES of VIOLENCE are clearly symbols of EVIL. The message of peace, love, harmony and compassion found in the Sufi saying Suhl-i-Kul - "Peace with All", rings loudly and strongly. Despite the macabre tone the play vibrates with intense energy, love and passion. As the title suggests - Noor - meaning Light in Arabic - and one of Islam's 99 names for God - will prevail. In this production Afghans, Americans, Indians and Pakistanis rise above differences of religion and borders and join together in sisterhood and brotherhood, in unison, to convey a common core of human values through a memorable piece of Art.
In keeping with the powerful theme of the play and to enhance the mood and meaning the style is deliberately minimalist. The starkly bare stage helps to provide a greater impact and challenges the actors in every possible way. A very compelling story is revealed through mime and gesture with no additives. The culmination of the play is in the recitation of the Rumi poem:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing
There is a field - I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
Ideas, languages, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
Noor will be staged in the Katzen Center at American University on Saturday, September 14th at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 15th at 4:00 p.m. After the performance there will be panel discussions on both days with distinguished scholars and religious leaders, followed by a reception.
Tickets can be purchased at www.american.tix.com
Director of Noor