Review by Brenda Repland
“An Ordinary Muslim” opened this week at New York Theater Workshop. This is a tale of a dysfunctional family with more reasons than you can count for that disfunction. Most of the drama centers around the challenges of immigration with its associated religious and cultural issues.
Akeel (Ranjit Chowdhry) father to adult children, has experienced two emigrations: one forced and one by choice. From India to Pakistan – following the Partition, and then on to England where the family lives now. Akeel cannot forget that the family lost their land, wealth and position as the majority through the Partition.
His children barely speak Urdu and have grown up as native English-speakers. This is the only country they know. Further complicating their assimilation into England is the fact that they are Muslims. Each family member will deal with this in his/her own way. Saima (Purva Bedi) is Akeel’s wife. She hold strong views with include complete denial of the marital abuse she suffers. Her frustration with life in England descends on her daughter.
The family does not often agree on how to deal with the many issues –
Will wearing a hijab damage one’s career?
Does temperance and refusing non-halal food spotlight one too much?
Just how much can non-Muslims be expected to understand about these issues?
When his work colleague teases him about drinking “halal orange juice,” Akeel’s son Azeem Bhatti (Sanjit De Silva) explodes in his frustration:
“In this country, a good Muslim is an invisible Muslim.”
“I don’t want to be tolerated. I want to be respected.”
Many of his complaints may sound self-pitying to people who have not lived through assimilation into another culture. But if one hears enough negativity, one might expect to hear it in even innocent remarks.
This play is well-acted but it tries to take on too many issues. While they are all valid, a smaller dose would have sharpened the spotlight. However, I would recommend this for anyone trying to understand the trial of being Muslim in a traditionally non-Muslim world.