Noor, a Unifying Work & Dramatic Exposition of Intense Feelings
By Karim Raza
MA (English), MA (Econ.) MPA, MBA, LLB
Noor (The Light) is a complex drama with intertwined themes and sub-themes; yet in its narration, monologues and dialogues the power of simple, direct speech is captivating sustaining the audience enthusiasm and receptivity from the beginning of the play to the end.
The play Noor, an existential expose of a grave and a highly charged reality of the post-9/11 juxtaposed with the message of ‘peace, harmony and compassion’, could only be created by a playwright of eminence and a person of wide and deep experience as Dr. Akbar Ahmed endowed with a scintillating mind, keen observation, uncompromising commitment to realistic portrayals, a deep understanding of the conflicts faced by ordinary Muslim families in the wake of 9/11, an honest human perspective, an impelling impartiality in portraying of and in commenting on all religious communities, a mastery in the art and craft of presenting a real life drama that manifests the reality of life through real life characters in flesh and blood identifiable and realizable as ordinary humans genuine in appearance, outlook and perception.
The production of the play and the performance of the characters in Noor is a marvel ignited, embedded and sustained by Ms Manjula Kumar, a producer and a director, par excellence. In the nuances of the portrayals of the characters by the actors you can see, sense and feel the insightful perception of each character’s essential role by the director and her precisely perfect orchestration of moves and gestures of the actors with the delivery and intonation of the dialogue they enunciate and verbalize.
I fully agree with Daniel Futterman, actor (Daniel Pearl, A Mighty Heart) and Academy Award-nominated screenwriter who rightly remarked that “I am in awe of this tremendous, important work.”
In my own evaluation as well Noor is decidedly a tremendous and important work. It is a very complex work of dramatic exposition of the intense feelings of depravation and the consequent compulsion to avenge incarnated in the character of the radical-extremist brother Daoud. Juxtaposed to Daoud’s radicalism is a belief in mercy and compassion incarnated in the mystic being of the Sufi-Muslim brother Abdullah whose name means ‘the servant of Allah’. Vengeance versus compassion is the core issue that the two antagonistic brothers are propounding both claiming to be the true adherent of Islam.
In the Shakespearean vein the two points of views are presented through powerful dialogues and monologues imbued with poetic expressions and shuddering utterances like “There may be mercy for the dead. There is none left for the living”.
A valuable service to humanity is done with the creation and staging of Noor. Noor undoubtedly will help the Western World understand the agony and the torments ordinary Muslim families are going through in the wake of 9/11. The message here is that the Muslims are not monolithic. Diversity has always existed. Even within a family different shades of Islamic beliefs have subsisted.
The successful dramatic depiction and presentation of that Muslim diversity is the key element of this play. It is aimed at awakening the Western observers to the reality of the diversity in the interpretation of the Islamic take on issues that exist in the Muslim household and in the Muslim communities.
Here, in this play, you see one sister and three brothers interpreting Islam differently. Noor, the sister, is an outspoken liberal with firm faith in Islam and is focused on promoting human rights and women’s equality with men regardless of race and faith. Despite being kidnapped and going through the saga of escaping her captors she has the undaunted courage to stand against the evil with the spirit to fight the foul.
Abdullah is a Sufi Muslim mystic for whom Islam is compassion, love and tolerance. Prayers and supplication to God is his Islamic Sufi mantra. Even the raid and search conducted by the soldiers hurting him and his family and insulting his faith does not deviate Abdullah from his commitment to compassion and tolerance.
Ali is a liberal Westernized Muslim for whom the creed of justice is supreme. He puts his faith in the law of the land for ensuring human rights and sanctity of personal integrity. Appealing to the custodians of law and order to redress grievances and gain justice is his modus operandi.
Daoud, on the other hand, is a highly charged radical for whom any injustice done to Muslims justifies a menacing violent terroristic response. Vengeance is this third brother’s creed. The irony embedded in his character is that by training and profession he is a doctor, a healer but the burning anger has put his mind and heart on fire. His gestures are menacing, his threats are dreadful and yet he cries and professes his love for his brothers, sister and father.
One of the underlying messages of the play is that the Muslims need to project the compassion and tolerance of Abdullah more so that the West does not view Daoud as representing the true version of Islam.
Dr Akbar Ahmed, the creator of Noor, is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University. He is an eminent author, poet and playwright. He has dedicated his life to the building of bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims through his uniquely distinctive multimedia approach. His play Noor is a powerful dramatic presentation of his commitment to this cause. Among his artistic creations is the acclaimed movie Jinnah, bringing to life the person, the issues and the times of the founding father of Pakistan. Dr Ahmed has also been Pakistan's High Commissioner (Ambassador) to the United Kingdom.
M. Manjula Kumar, who so ably directed Noor is a Director at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC. She is a highly accomplished and experienced director with numerous plays and movies to her credit. She is also an eminent actor. In addition to acting she is a dedicated social activist whose activism has influenced as well as caused many positive changes.
Both symbolically and significantly the cast was selected from among the actors with ethnic background of the countries which are at odds with each other, namely India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and America. This cast created a big impact by demonstrating unity through their harmonious interaction conveying the message of peace, understanding and love in a meaningful contrast to their respective countries' myopic self-destructive stances.
In September of this year Noor was staged in Washington, DC to the capacity crowds every night. The audience of the who-is-who included intellectuals, opinion makers and a large number of the interfaith groups as well as persons of all political stripes and. ethnicity.
There is a strong demand from various avenues to stage the play in several other states in America and Canada as well as to take it to Pakistan and India.
(The reviewer is Mr Karim Raza, a multi-disciplinary scholar and writer who has been a university professor, a senior civil servant, a banker, a lawyer and an international consultant.)