9/11 seen through a different lens in upcoming play

Courtesy Photo / Wajahat Ali
Wajahat Ali

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo / Wajahat Ali Wajahat Ali

Chris LaFoy

When Wajahat Ali signed up for a short stories class during his senior year at the University of California-Berkeley, he thought he was going to have a semester of learning from an acclaimed professor. Instead of learning
how to write short stories, Ali was forced to begin writing a play that would eventually get attention across the nation.

Tomorrow, Ali will be in attendance for the Michigan State University theater department’s staged reading of his play “Domestic Crusaders” at the Cook-DeWitt Center on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus.

“Domestic Crusaders” is a play about three generations of a Muslim Pakistani-American family in a post-9/11 world.

“It’s a story of one family forced to confront one another and talk to each other over the course of one day,” Ali said. “It’s all through a culturally specific lens different than the sensational media.”

The process of writing the play could be a theatrical performance itself. Pulitzer Prize nominee Ishmael Reed, Ali’s short stories professor, decided that Ali’s talents were wasted on short stories and told him he would be assigned a 20-page script in order to get credit for the class.

“I thought he was crazy,” Ali said. “It was like he was asking me to become a ballerina.”

Once the 20 pages were prepared Ali assumed he would stop working on the project, but Reed had other plans. Reed continued requesting more of the play in five-page increments. The next three years resulted in a full play. Reed then informed Ali that the play was going to be performed on a community theater stage.

“I didn’t even know what a staged reading was,” Ali said. “I didn’t know what was going on.”

After a warm response from the audience, Ali decided to continue putting shows on in increasingly large theaters, working with the resources he could get a hold of.

“One show I used my family’s furniture to dress the set,” Ali said. “They didn’t have anything in their living room for a week so I could put on a play.”

The play’s success culminated on the stage of the theatre at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side of New York City. During the five-week production, “Domestic Crusaders” broke the famed theater’s 40 year box office record.

The day after Ali’s 30th birthday, he was shipped a copy of “Domestic Crusaders” in its first edition published form, an accomplishment he worked toward for 10 years.

Now Ali no longer needs to borrow furniture to see his work, and his mother no longer needs to cook for the cast. Theater departments in cities all over the U.S. are putting his work on display and sparking a conversation about tolerance, blame, fear and understanding. Ali said the play represents the side of the story told by a people that were talked about often but never actually heard.

Ali is currently working on many projects including multiple books, an HBO pilot and a film screenplay.

The performance is a part of the GVSU program Migrations of Islam. This event incorporates multiple mediums of art to facilitate a conversation about the larger issues at hand.

Brian Bowe, visiting communications professor at GVSU, is helping to organize the upcoming events, including Ali’s play.

“‘Domestic Crusaders’ is one very powerful example of a Muslim Pakistani-American family attempting to understand the American experience,” Bowe said.

Tomorrow’s staged reading in the Cook-DeWitt Center will begin at 7pm and admission is free.

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