Theatre

Faith in the time of turmoil

Miraj is a theatrical production, depicting the experiences of a Muslim upper middle class family in India caught between Islamic fundamentalism of the Arab states and communalism on their home turf. Written by Nisha Abdulla and directed by Chanakya Vyas, the play gives the audience a perspective of the multiplicity in the practice of the Islamic faith by tracing the internal and the ideological journey of the protagonist Tariq, a young college boy studying in Michigan, who slips into the trap of Islamic fundamentalism. Across the play, one finds three distinct kinds of relationships that different characters have with the Islamic faith – the first one is a completely depoliticised practice of Islam that Tariq’s parents stand for, the second a politicized relationship with the faith that seeks answers to communal injustice through peaceful protests and finally a fundamentalist relationship with the faith that resorts to violent methods of terror in the name of Islam. The audience becomes a witness to Tariq’s journey as he traverses across these three categories confronting his doubts and beliefs in each context.

The play opens on a tensed note as the parents of the protagonist (Tariq) are being interrogated by the Investigation Bureau about their son and his whereabouts since he is not to be found in his university. In the fear that his son might turn towards political activism, the father has sent Tariq to the US. He is always seen in modern clothing without any obvious marks of religion on his body. Tariq’s mother is engaged in work that discourages young Muslim boys to go over to the other side. She too is seen not wearing a hijab or a burkha throughout the play. The mother, however is as a practitioner and a believer in the faith of Islam, she visits the darghah and has taught her son to see right from wrong through the eyes of Islamic mythology. For both of them, religious practice is completely depoliticized. When Tariq volunteers for peaceful protests to seek answers to the death of his friend Shafiq, he is fiercely discouraged by his parents and is asked to go back to pursue his studies in the Michigan state.

Apart from unfolding in multiple locations – in India, in Michigan and in Mosul, the play also unfolds in the internal world of Tariq. Finding himself in the company of an Islamic angel, Tariq is prompted to embark on the philosophical journey where he constantly finds himself at the crossroads of faith and blindness, doubt and belief. Where does faith end and blindness begin? And where does doubt end and belief begin? The aesthetics of Tariq’s internal world is culled out using abstract visual projections, abstract sounds and a mystical apparition of this angel conversing with Tariq. With an exception of this visualization of the protagonist’s internal journey, the stage remains a flat space for most of the performance. With heavy dependence on props and almost no setting there is very little that concretizes the world that the performance strives to bring alive for the audience. It becomes difficult to grasp kind of space that a character occupies at a given point in time.

With an evocative story and convincing acting, the play exposes the fragile boundaries that divides the profoundly different worlds of activism and terrorism.


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Printable version | May 25, 2022 9:20:57 am | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/theatre/faith-in-the-time-of-turmoil/article19416083.ece