In Stories Of Muslim Identity, Playwright Explores Fault Lines Of Faith

Bilal Qureshi in NPR:

AyadAyad Akhtar is a novelist, actor and screenwriter. And when his first play, Disgraced, won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013, he also became one of the most talked about new voices in American theater. Long before this buzz, though, Akhtar grew up in a Muslim family with roots in Pakistan. He mines this background to bring the inner lives and conflicts of Muslim Americans to the stage. His plays often feature cutting dialogue and confrontations steeped in the tension between Islamic tradition and personal evolution. Akhtar's latest play, The Who & the What, is set in Atlanta and tackles the role of women in Muslim families. As with his other work, Akhtar's own family helped inspire the drama. “One of the central questions of my childhood was the role of women in my culture,” Akhtar says. “I grew up around so many brilliant and strong women who really seemed to suffer and chafe under the familial and religious order.” At the heart of his new play is a young woman named Zarina, who wants to confront that order. She's secretly writing a scathing book about the Prophet Muhammad, hoping to expose what she considers the misogyny at the heart of Islamic history. When Zarina's observant father and sister discover her manuscript, the three of them descend into accusations of blasphemy and betrayal.

Playwright Donald Margulies served on the jury that recommended Akhtar's Disgraced for the Pulitzer Prize, and he says these kinds of clashes are at the heart of great theater. He says, “Theater is a place where arguments can be dramatized in a much more exciting way than if it were simply prose narrative.” He adds that what makes Akhtar's work especially exciting is that he is staging multiple perspectives within a community that is still working through its place in America. “The African-American experience, the Jewish American experience — these have been very prevalent in our drama for generations now, and the fact that here we were having a Muslim American experience that was being dramatized was a very momentous occasion,” he says.

More here.