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Muslim Play in London Explores Radicalism

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Muslim Play in London Explores Radicalism

Performing Arts

Muslim Play in London Explores Radicalism

Muslim Play in London Explores Radicalism

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A Muslim theater company in London has produced a new play, The Truth About Your Father. The 55-minute production explores a widow's attempts to explain to her son why his father became a suicide bomber. The drama elicits strong reactions six months after British-born Muslims targeted the London Transport System, killing 56 people including themselves.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

"The Truth About Your Father" is a new play in London produced by a Muslim theater company. It explores a widow's attempts to explain to her son why his father became a suicide bomber. The drama is eliciting strong reactions six months after British foreign Muslims targeted the London transport system, killing 56 people, including themselves. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

The stage is a stark domestic scene: a kitchen table, a laundry basket. The year is 2015, 10 years after the July 7th terrorist attacks in London. Actress Eleanor Martin addresses the audience and her son, named Jihad.

(Soundbite of "The Truth About Your Father")

Ms. ELEANOR MARTIN: (As mother) My Jihad, he's a good lad. I only wish the world had given him a kinder welcome. A shadow was cast over him before he was even able to cast his own.

AMOS: The play's author, Luqman Ali, says his inspiration came from a newspaper headline about the family of a suicide bomber and the pregnant wife he left behind.

Mr. LUQMAN ALI (Playwright): This woman, how was she going to explain this to her children? How was she going to represent their father to them? And that would lead on to a lot of other questions about the place of Muslims in the UK and how are they going to deal with and address the issue of radicalization of young Muslims?

(Soundbite of "The Truth About Your Father")

Ms. MARTIN: (As mother) Your father fled the real jihad, of making peace between the two sides of himself and living by the principles of Islam. Like the prophets said, the greatest jihad is against the enemy within.

AMOS: Ali says the drama explores the true definition of Jihad, a term often misunderstood in the West and hijacked by extremists.

Mr. ALI: It means to struggle, but it means to strive. And ultimately and more importantly, it means to struggle in order to realize true peace within.

AMOS: And so the mother in the play explains the meaning of that struggle through traditional Islamic fables. One involves the sun and the wind.

(Soundbite of "The Truth About Your Father")

Ms. MARTIN: (As mother) He chose to be the wind or, rather, a mercilessly violent storm taking people's lives and limbs rather than their coats.

AMOS: For actress Eleanor Martin, a convert to Islam, it is a message to young Muslims swayed by religious extremism.

Ms. MARTIN: She really wants to convey to her son that, you know, he is not the son of some alien monster. He is begot of a human being who was, you know, a very real and at one time a very loving person. But, you know, his father took the wrong way. So, yes, there is that conflict there, but she absolutely condemns the act and she's determined to make sure her son understands how he should see the warning signs himself.

AMOS: At the end of the performance, the audience is invited for a discussion. In this crowd of Muslims and non-Muslims, the play has touched strong feelings. One man says he's an Anglican minister. For him, the play was deeply disturbing.

(Soundbite of discussion)

Unidentified Man: But in your message, actually there was no recognition that these acts of apocalyptic madness had any context in any political reality at all. You completely voided that.

AMOS: The misunderstandings are no surprise to Tariq Ramadan.

Mr. TARIQ RAMADAN (Oxford University): It's not always easy to have mixed audience, and the message that you are sending could be misinterpreted by people.

AMOS: But Ramadan, an Islamic scholar at Oxford University appointed to a government task force after the July bombings, says a dialogue in the country is long overdue.

Mr. RAMADAN: We are nurturing on both sides this victim mentality. They don't like Muslims, they don't like us, so we have to protect ourselves. On the other side, we are the first victims of terrorists, so we have to protect us. How could you build a society with all the people perceiving themselves as victims? So we need to change the mentality. We need to change the perception.

AMOS: The play will tour nationally in the spring. Luqman Ali says there is a minority of Muslims who object to the public airing of the issues he's raised.

Mr. ALI: I choose to disagree with that. When we have a situation where the extremism or terrorism within the Muslim world is on the television every night for everyone to see, we have a responsibility to clarify certain issues as to where we as Muslims stand in relation to extremism and terrorism.

AMOS: Which is why the premiere was held at St. Ethelburger's Church. The first Koran published in English was printed here in the 18th century, and much of the church, one of the oldest medieval buildings in London, was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993. It was rebuilt as a center for religious reconciliation. That is what this play is about. Deborah Amos, NPR News, London.

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