By Matthew Stiffler, Arab American National Museum
On Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, the Arab American National Museum hosted blogger, playwright, and researcher Wajahat Ali for a staged reading of his Off-Broadway hit, Domestic Crusaders. The play focuses on a day in the life of a modern multi-generational Muslim Pakistani American family who convene at the family home to celebrate the 21st birthday of the youngest child. More than 80 people, including old friends from the Arab American community and new ones from the South Asian community, attended the reading in the AANM’s auditorium, and most stayed for the lively Q & A that followed. The performance was part of a collaboration with Michigan State University’s Migrations of Islam project, which is a six month-long symposium of performances and discussions in three Michigan cities: Grand Rapids, East Lansing, and Dearborn. The project ends Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, with a performance in Dearborn by comedian Dean Obeidallah and a conference in East Lansing featuring nationally-known scholars, including Aminah McCloud and Junaid Rana.
The evening on Feb. 9 began with an open and honest discussion between two professors, one Muslim university chaplain, two community leaders, seven reality-show stars, and one outspoken playwright and blogger. Wajahat had asked to meet with the community in Dearborn, particularly cast members from the TLC reality show All-American Muslim. When the show came under fire in December 2011, Wajahat was a vocal defender of the show as well as the civil rights of all Muslim Americans. Since the AANM is in the fortunate position to serve as a central meeting place for the Arab American and Muslim communities, we were able to host a candid conversation between Wajahat, cast members from the show, and a few community leaders, including Mohammed Tayssir Safi, the first Muslim chaplain to have an endowed position at a public university.
The conversation, which also served as a community meeting for the AANM’s Ten Years Later project, focused mainly on how each member of the show has dealt with the backlash to the show as well as positive responses from the public. Some of the cast members said they were shocked to be seen as spokespeople for Islam, instead of just one example of the faith. A main thread of the conversation was also the internal issues in the Muslim communities of Michigan, including the desire to bridge national, cultural, and linguistic differences between the diverse Muslim communities. Cast members also thanked Wajahat for being such a vocal supporter of Muslim American rights, and for speaking out against opponents of TLC’s decision to air the show.
The community meeting and staged reading were wonderful opportunities for the AANM to further its mission of educating the public about issues that affect the Arab American community. It was also a great chance to foster dialogue about, and engage the public in, issues of national importance.